(Tau­rog 1965) Dr. Gold­foot and the Bikini Machine
(Groen­ing & San­doval 2010) Futu­rama: Ep.98 ― The Pris­oner of Benda
(Groen­ing, Jean & Reiss 1991) The Simp­sons: Ep.37 ― Mr. Lisa Goes to Wash­ing­ton
(Marks 1964) Perry Mason: Ep.199 ― The Case of the Ner­vous Neigh­bor
(Groen­ing & Chesney-Thompson 2010) Futu­rama: Ep.99 ― Lrrrec­on­cil­able Ndn­dif­fer­ences
(Stone 2015) Lake Placid vs. Ana­conda
(Sharp 1963) The Kiss of the Vam­pire
(Groen­ing & Muzquiz 2010) Futu­rama: Ep.100 ― The Mutants are Revolt­ing
(Colum­bus 2002) Harry Pot­ter and the Cham­ber of Secrets
(War­ren 1966) Manos: The Hands of Fate [Mys­tery Sci­ence The­atre ver­sion]
(Groen­ing & Claf­fey 2010) Futu­rama: Ep.101 ― The Futu­rama Hol­i­day Spec­tac­u­lar
(Cocteau 1946) La belle et la bête
(Lan­dres 1958) The Flame Bar­rier Read more »

First-time listening for September 2015

27040. (Giro­lamo Fres­cobaldi) Messa Madona
27041. (Adam and the Ants) Dirk Wears White Sox
27042. (Gilles Bin­chois) Triste plaisir et douloureuse joie
27043. (Fuck But­tons) “Bright Tomor­row”; “Lit­tle Bloody Shoul­der” [sin­gle]
27044. (Erroll Gar­ner) Erroll Gar­ner [Verve Jazz Mas­ters #7]
27045. (Swans) Filth
27046. (New Order) Move­ment
27047. (Notker the Stam­merer) Natus ante saec­ula
27048. (Sleater-Kinney) Dig Me Out
27049. (Veena Sahasrabud­dhe) Raga Abhogi
27050. (Veena Sahasrabud­dhe) Raga Jog


26257. (Mar­ion Zim­mer Bradley) The Planet Savers
26258. (Lester del Rey) The Mys­te­ri­ous Planet
26259. (Alan Arm­strong) Whit­ting­ton
26260. (Glo­ria Hatrick) Masks
(L. Sprague de Camp) The Pur­ple Ptero­dactyl — The Adven­tures of W. Wil­son New­bury,
Ensor­celled Financier:
. . . . 26261. (L. Sprague de Camp) Fore­ward [pref­ace]
. . . . 26262. (L. Sprague de Camp) Balsamo’s Mir­ror [story]
. . . . 26263. (L. Sprague de Camp) The Lamp [story]
. . . . 26264. (L. Sprague de Camp) Algy [story]
. . . . 26265. (L. Sprague de Camp) The Men­hir [story]
. . . . 26266. (L. Sprague de Camp) Dar­ius [story]
. . . . 26267. (L. Sprague de Camp) United Imp [story] Read more »

Sunday, September 27, 2015 — Assiniboine

What fol­lows here took place dur­ing the sec­ond week of Sep­tem­ber. It was planned a long time ahead. A quar­ter cen­tury of friend­ship between myself and Filip Marek would be cel­e­brated with an adventure.

We both love moun­tains. The Cana­dian Rock­ies has some of the finest, and most of them have not been gelded by roads, habi­ta­tions and ski resorts. A lot of them are as wild as they were when their first human explor­ers came upon them pur­su­ing mam­moths down the “ice-free cor­ri­dor” or per­haps fil­tered in from the Pacific coast. But the choice of des­ti­na­tion had to be a com­pro­mise between the cost and time of access and the degree of wilder­ness. I had only one week free, and Filip could spare not much more.

15-09-27 BLOG the peakI chose Mt. Assini­boine, a hand­some 3,618m peak in the south-central Rock­ies, in BC but close to the Alberta bound­ary. The area around it is well pro­tected. No roads are allowed in the 4,000ha region around it. Access is lim­ited to hik­ing in or out on foot, or heli­copter. There are a lim­ited num­ber of camp­ing places, and envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion is strict. All sup­plies must be car­ried in, and noth­ing, not even a gum rap­per, should be left behind. This area is in turn sur­rounded on all sides by larger national and provin­cial parks with less strin­gent pro­tec­tion, but still kept wild. The Kanasaskis Range, pro­tect­ing its east­ern flank, puts it into a dif­fer­ent world from the ski resorts and tourist trail of Banff and Jasper. From the Alberta side, it’s rather like The Wall in Game of Thrones.

Our plan was to meet at a hos­tel in Cal­gary, then take a bus the next day to Can­more, Alberta, a ski and rid­ing resort in the Bow Val­ley. We overnighted there, which gave us an evening to explore the town, climb­ing up to some hoodoos that over­looked the town, and amus­ing our­selves look­ing at the absurd abun­dance of wild rab­bits hop­ping around the town. Almost as numer­ous were Ford 550 cab trucks. The local library was equipped with a climb­ing wall — not some­thing you expect in a library in Toronto. Its exten­sive local his­tory col­lec­tion revealed that Can­more was orig­i­nally a coal min­ing town, first set­tled by dour-looking immi­grant Finns of such prodi­geous fer­til­ity that they would have inspired the envy of the rab­bits. The present pop­u­la­tion is the usual multi-racial, multi-lingual Cana­dian mix­ture, with a notice­able pres­ence of local Black­foot, Sarcee, and Cree.

In Can­more, we faced the first strate­gic uncer­tainty in our plans. To reach Mt. Assini­boine, we would hike 28km from the trail­head, going over Assini­boine Pass to a small log cabin near Lake Magog, where we would stay for three nights. This entry hike was sup­posed to take between seven and ten hours. Overnight­ing on the trail was not encour­aged, since it’s griz­zly coun­try. So we would have to start rea­son­ably early. But to get to the trail­head at Mt. Shark, we needed to go through the nar­row pass between Mt. Run­dle and Ha Ling Peak, then fol­low a 40km gravel road. There is no pub­lic trans­porta­tion along this road, so we had no choice but to get up early and hope that we could hitch-hike to the trail­head and get there with a suf­fi­cient win­dow of day­light. For­tu­nately, we got a ride within half an hour, with a charm­ing woman who knew the moun­tains and trails.

15-09-27 BLOG trailhead res

Me at the trail­head near Mt. Shark.

The sec­ond uncer­tainty was our phys­i­cal con­di­tion. Both of us had leg injuries. I had an as-yet unhealed stress frac­ture in my left leg, that was still occa­sion­ally painful, and Filip has some kind of ongo­ing plan­tar prob­lem. Filip is a big, mus­cu­lar guy, much more ath­letic than I am. I’m a pudgy lit­tle guy, nobody’s visual image of an out­doors­man. Though I have a long his­tory of out­door activ­i­ties, in recent years I’ve been pretty urban. My last hike on this scale — a long uphill grind in the moun­tains of Tran­syl­va­nia in 2007 — left me par­a­lyzed with exhaus­tion, unable to walk the last klik to my goal. A short hike up Mont du Lac des Cygnes in Que­bec, last spring, was easy enough, but didn’t indi­cate any great degree of spry­ness. Frankly, I had no idea if I would be able to do this. It’s cus­tom­ary for peo­ple to heli­copter in to the moun­tain, then hike out over the pass, mak­ing most of the trip down­hill. I had pur­posely arranged things in reverse, so that the test of our met­tle would be at the start. The 28km hike would be uphill most of the way, start­ing with a 65m descent to the Upper Spray River, then a 650m rise to Assini­boine Pass.

Another uncer­tainty was the weather, always a gam­ble in the Rock­ies. We hiked under a grey, over­cast sky. We were both resigned to the pos­si­bil­ity that rain­storms or even snow­fall might sig­nif­i­cantly reduce both vis­i­bil­ity and com­fort. In fact, the woman who gave us the ride had informed us that Lake Magog’s alpine val­ley was snow­bound that morn­ing, but was expected to melt off by the time we got there. While there was a gen­eral pre­dic­tion of clear­ing weather in the next few days, moun­tains tend to chop up such pre­dic­tions into micro-weather, with large vari­a­tions between dif­fer­ent enclaves.

Filip behind me (as usual) near the start of Assiniboine Pass - snow starting to appear on the trail.

Filip behind me (as usual) near the start of Assini­boine Pass — snow start­ing to appear on the trail.

As it turned out, the cool, grey weather was a bless­ing. The upward trek was not nearly as dif­fi­culty as I had feared, and we made rapid progress with­out work­ing up a sweat. After only a few hours, we came upon a bull-moose. This was some­what unusual, as moose are noc­tur­nal. I have had a lot expe­ri­ence with this charm­ingly stu­pid ani­mal. This one was a young male, with a rack of antlers raw red from either fight­ing or scratch­ing. I wasn’t sure if it was rut­ting sea­son here, but I knew it was so back in Ontario. Moose can be dan­ger­ous, if you get too close to them, espe­cially rut­ting males, and we had turned a cor­ner that brought us quite close to him. But he looked at us with bored dis­dain and walked away. This was to be our only encounter with a large ani­mal. We had pur­chased a can of bear spray in Cal­gary, since it is more or less required, because there are numer­ous griz­zlies in the area. How­ever, grizzly-human encoun­ters are rare. Usu­ally, they hear the noise of humans from far off, or smell them in the air and avoid them. We met two par­ties of peo­ple mak­ing the more pop­u­lar down­ward trip. At approx­i­mately the half-way point, the val­ley we fol­lowed climbed out of the for­est and opened up into alpine meadow, hemmed in by spec­tac­u­lar cliffs. Only the last por­tion, where the trail had become muddy and nar­row, and the climb over Assini­boine pass, rather steep, bro­ken up, and still snowy, was any sort of challenge.

We made it to the cabin in good time. The snow had mostly melted, but Mt. Assini­boine was still invis­i­ble, hid­den behind a mist of clouds. We were tired, but not exhausted. There was already a fire in the stove, and we met our cabin mates. We could not have been luck­ier. They were a charm­ing fam­ily of Métis back­ground: a hus­band and wife, a teenage daugh­ter by an ear­lier mar­riage, and a dig­ni­fied elderly aunt. The hus­band had once been a ranger at Assini­boine, and knew the place by heart. Two sons were with them, but were tent­ing in the bush, rather than stay­ing in the cabin. They all had the quiet, soft-spoken calm and con­fi­dence that would make them an ide­al­ized sam­ple of exem­plo familia canaden­sis. I had expected to share the cabin with the inevitable Aus­tralians on walk­a­bout, or some noisy macho types. This fam­ily was a bless­ing to us, mak­ing the whole expe­ri­ence sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter than expected.

The fol­low­ing day was still over­cast, and Mt. Assini­boine still remained hid­den. The Lakes around the moun­tain are charm­ingly named: Gog, Magog, Og, Sun­burst, Cerulean, Mar­vel, Glo­ria and Ter­rapin. Each is strik­ingly dif­fer­ent in appear­ance. Given the weather, we decided to spend the next day walk­ing the mostly level and unde­mand­ing trail to Og Lake, which turned out to be slightly creepy-looking and des­o­late, sur­rounded by bare rock and a wide beach of peb­bles. By the time we returned to the cabin, my leg was act­ing up. I passed on a sec­ond hike, and spent time relax­ing around the camp, while Filip headed up to Won­der Pass. He returned just as it was get­ting dark. He had actu­ally crossed the pass and was able to look down at Mar­vel, Glo­ria and Ter­rapin lakes, but Mt. Assini­boine remained shrouded in cloud. We bunked down for the evening. I had wor­ried that my chronic snor­ing would be a social prob­lem, but it turned out that every­body snored. In the mid­dle of the night, I woke and went out to pee. The sky had cleared and stars come out. The North­ern Lights were shin­ing. Not a spec­tac­u­lar dis­play, with multi-coloured cur­tains, but at least a vivid glow and flicker. I told Filip about it, and he went out for a look, then the young girl came out as well.

The next day was clear and sunny. Mt. Assini­boine emerged fully and grandly. With it’s Matterhon-like shape, it dom­i­nates every­thing. The ice-bound pyra­mi­dal peak, even in a clear sky, leaves a smoke-like white plume of ice par­ti­cles as the wind swirls past it. That’s why it’s named Assini­boine. The Assini­boine are a plains tribe who never lived any­where near it. But George Daw­son, Canada’s emi­nent 19th cen­tury geol­o­gist and explorer (author of Geol­ogy and Resources of the Region in the Vicin­ity of the 49th par­al­lel from the Lake of the Woods to the Rocky Moun­tains, with Lists of Plants and Ani­mals Col­lected, and Notes on the Fos­sils from the Kil­ladeer Bad­lands) thought it resem­bled an Assini­boine teepee with smoke emerg­ing from it’s top.

On the edge of the boulder fields.

On the edge of the boul­der fields.

This was our big day. The weather was per­fect. Sunny, but never too hot. The air was as clear as crys­tal. All around were spec­tac­u­lar moun­tains, cliffs, gorges, forests, glac­i­ers, lakes, rocky wastes, moun­tain mead­ows, bogs, rivers, and giant boul­ders that might have been tossed by the gods play­ing mar­bles. But Assini­boine loomed over them all, like a mother sur­rounded by her chil­dren. First, we walked around lake Magog to the foot of the great boul­der field that descends from the glac­i­ers. Filip took a dip in the frigid lake, while I more ratio­nally soaked up the sun in the moun­tain mead­ows, men­tally play­ing Mahler’s fifth sym­phony in my head. I tested out the boul­der field, but deter­mined that it was far too unsta­ble and crevace-filled to safely spend much time on. One boul­der was about the size of a small house and looked like it had been lobbed to its place by a giant cat­a­pult. Every few min­utes you could hear some­thing falling off the moun­tain, the noise echo­ing on the sur­face of the lake. The area was so beau­ti­ful, it was dif­fi­cult to force our­selves to move on, but we found and fol­lowed the trail that would take us around the north­ern flank of the moun­tain and past Sun­burst Peak to a chain of three lakes, Sun­burst, Cerulean and Eliz­a­beth. Each of these lakes has a dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter. Cerulean nes­tles against the gigan­tic, jagged wall of Sun­burst Peak. This wall looks like a huge moun­tain, loom­ing over the lake splen­didly, but it is actu­ally noth­ing more than an out­ly­ing arm of Assini­boine, dwarfed by the later. Eliz­a­beth Lake is named after Eliz­a­beth von Rum­mel, a Bavar­ian aris­to­crat whose fam­ily was dis­pos­sessed and impov­er­ished by the out­break of World War I, and fled to Canada to work as ranch hands. Eliz­a­beth grew up to be the “Baroness of the Rock­ies”, an expert moun­taineer and nat­u­ral­ist, utterly devoted to Assini­boine. We found her cabin, hardly any big­ger than the one we were sleep­ing in, where she lived until her death in 1980.

Some steep climbing.

Some steep climbing.

Filip still behind, but getting higher.

Filip still behind, but get­ting higher.

Again, my leg started act­ing up, and I rested while Filip climbed a ridge that gave a view of Nestor Peak and some more val­leys to the north and west. Filip pointed out that my ten­dency to take a faster pace prob­a­bly brought on the pain. Usu­ally, I pulled ahead of him on the trail while he kept to a slower pace, but in the end, he was often able to climb where I couldn’t. But forc­ing myself to slow down was dif­fi­cult. After see­ing the three lakes, we started up the switch­back trail that led to high ridges called the Niblet, the Nublet, and the Nub. By this time, our beauty-experiencing cir­cuits were over­loaded, but every time we climbed higher and the for­est momen­tary opened up for a view, there was another jolt of it. Finally, we came to this:

15-09-27 BLOG epiphany resThis is what we had been seek­ing, and we had found it. A place that would express, not only our friend­ship, but the best things within us. When you are at such a place, you real­ize the insipid­ness of most human pre­ten­sions to wis­dom. The silli­ness of orga­nized reli­gion and ide­olo­gies, and the pathetic, child­ish squab­bles and squalid obses­sions that we find our­selves enslaved to, all become noth­ing in the cold, pure air around these hun­dred thou­sand cathe­drals of nature. When some fatu­ous ass claims to be able to know all about God’s com­mand­ments, or the infal­li­ble Mar­ket, or the pre­des­ti­na­tion of the Dialec­tic, or what­ever else the march­ing morons are ped­dling this week or next, I will always have this scene in my head to keep me sane and unswindled.

Tired, but happy, we made our way down to the cabin. After another night’s rest, we climbed up again to the Nublet. Filip made a try at the higher van­tage of the Nub, but gave up. We came back in time to pack up and ready for the heli­copter. The pilot took us up, but took a less direct path in order to search for a hiker reported injured some­where. Some­times we seemed to be mak­ing close approaches to peaks and ridges. From above we could see range after range of moun­tains, into the infi­nite dis­tance, for this was a great ocean of moun­tains, into which you could throw a dozen Switzer­lands and lose them. We had seen but a tiny, insignif­i­cant cor­ner of it. And that was too big for us to grasp, too beau­ti­ful to find words for.

I am pro­foundly grate­ful that I was born, grew up, and live in this coun­try, which has given me a wealth of beauty and a feel­ing of free­dom that not even ver­min like Prime Min­is­ter Harper can take away from me.

Filip’s Face­book page has bet­ter pho­tographs. He has a bet­ter cam­era and is a bet­ter photographer.


(Edwards 1963) The Pink Pan­ther
(Cor­man 1959) A Bucket of Blood
(Adams & Nel­son 2013) Alexander’s Lost World: Ep.1 ― Explo­rations of an Ancient Sea
(Adams & Nel­son 2013) Alexander’s Lost World: Ep.2 ― Mother of All Cities
(Adams & Nel­son 2013) Alexander’s Lost World: Ep.3 ― Alexan­dria on the Oxus
(Adams & Nel­son 2013) Alexander’s Lost World: Ep.4 ― City of the Lady Moon
(Adams & Nel­son 2013) Alexander’s Lost World: Ep.5 ― Land of the Golden Fleece
(Adams & Nel­son 2013) Alexander’s Lost World: Ep.6 ― Source of Civil­i­sa­tion
(Payet & Franco 1986) Golden Tem­ple Ama­zons [Les ama­zones du tem­ple d’or]
(Mar­cel 1983) Pris­on­ers of the Lost Uni­verse
(Mesa 1995) Galaxis Read more »

First-time listening for August 2015

27027. (Philopoc­tus de Caserta) En remi­rant vo douce pour­trai­ture
27028. (Henri Dutilleux) Tim­bres, espaces, mou­ve­ment, ou ‘La nuit étoilée’ Part 1
27029. (Iron But­ter­fly) Heavy
27030. (Adam & the Ants) “Deutscher Girls” [from Derek Jarman’s Jubilee sound­track]
27031. (Géry de Ghersem) Missa Ave Virgo Sanc­tis­sima
27032. (Duke Elling­ton) Buf­fet Flat
27033. (Kam­barkan Folk Ensem­ble) “Jolughabuz az kündö [We Will Meet Soon]”
27034. (Antje Duvekot) New Siberia
27035. (Adam and the Ants) Live at the Round­house, 1978
27036. (Toumani Dia­baté & Bal­laké Sis­soko) New Ancient Strings
27037. (Anni­bale Padovano) Messe à 24 voix
27038. (Plat­ters) Four Plat­ters and One Lovely, Vol.8
27039. (Jacobus Gal­lus Cornio­lus) Missa Super Sancta Maria


26168. (Cather­ine Free­man & Deb­o­rah Mail­man) Going Bush — Adven­tures Across
. . . . . Indige­nous Aus­tralia
26169. (Aditya Adhikari & Bhaskar Gau­tam) Impunity and Polit­i­cal Account­abil­ity in Nepal
26170. (Mario Alinei) The Celtic Ori­gin of Lat. rota and Its Impli­ca­tions for the Pre­his­tory of
. . . . . Europe [arti­cle]
26171. (Mar­tin Gilens) Test­ing The­o­ries of Amer­i­can Pol­i­tics: Elites, Inter­est Groups, and
. . . . . Aver­age Cit­i­zens [arti­cle]
26173. (Joseph Csic­sila) John S. Tuckey’s Mark Twain and Lit­tle Satan [arti­cle]
26174. (John Sut­ton Tuckey) Mark Twain and Lit­tle Satan: The Writ­ing of The Mys­te­ri­ous
. . . . . Stranger
26175. (Li Liu) The Chi­nese Neolithic — Tra­jec­to­ries to Early States
26176. (Sheri­dan Le Fanu) The Mur­dered Cousin [story]
26177. (Bar­bara Yorke) Kings and King­doms of Early Anglo-Saxon Eng­land Read more »

Twain’s Mysterious Stranger

15-08-08 READING Mysterious Stranger coverSome famous books are obvi­ous mas­ter­pieces, most have a mix­ture of mer­its and flaws, but a few are just plain weird. In the last cat­e­gory, few would hes­i­tate to place Mark Twain’s Mys­te­ri­ous Stranger. Even attempt­ing to find and read a copy can be a con­fus­ing task. Twain’s last novel existed in a num­ber of frag­men­tary, unfin­ished ver­sions, writ­ten in between 1897 and 1908. None were pub­lished in his life­time. His lit­er­ary execu­tor, Albert Bigelow Paine, and Fred­er­ick Duneka, an edi­tor at Harper & Broth­ers, cob­bled together a ver­sion and pub­lished it in 1916. This is the ver­sion that became known to the pub­lic. I have just reread this 1916 ver­sion in its orig­i­nal edi­tion, The Mys­te­ri­ous Stranger — A Romance by Mark Twain with Illus­tra­tions by N.C.Wyeth [shown at left]. Wyeth’s illus­tra­tions add greatly to the plea­sure. He was one of the great­est of book illus­tra­tors in a period that boasted Kay Niel­son, Howard Pyle, Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Edmund Dulac and Arthur Rack­ham. How­ever, this edi­tion took extra­or­di­nary lib­er­ties with Twain’s work, a fact which was not made plain until 1963, when John S. Tucker pub­lished Mark Twain and Lit­tle Satan: The Writ­ing of The Mys­te­ri­ous Stranger. Twain had first attempted the story in 1897, leav­ing an unti­tled frag­ment [now called the St. Peters­burg Frag­ment]. Between 1897 and 1900, Twain pro­duced a more sub­stan­tial man­u­script which he called The Chron­i­cle of Young Satan. In 1898, he pro­duced a short and much very dif­fer­ent text which he called School­house Hill, incor­po­rat­ing ele­ments from the first two. Finally, between 1902 and 1908, Twain pro­duced an almost com­plete ver­sion which he titled No. 44, the Mys­te­ri­ous Stranger: Being an Ancient Tale Found in a Jug and Freely Trans­lated from the Jug. Tucker’s schol­ar­ship revealed that Paine and Duneka had relied pri­mar­ily on the ear­lier Chron­i­cle of Young Satan, had removed sub­stan­tial por­tions, changed names, char­ac­ters, added bits writ­ten by them­selves, and pasted the last chap­ter of Twain’s final ver­sion onto the pas­tiche. None of these extreme alter­ations was acknowl­edged, an act of lit­er­ary van­dal­ism and fraud that went uncor­rected until the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Press pub­lished three of the orig­i­nal man­u­scripts in 1969. No.44, the Mys­te­ri­ous Stranger, Twain’s final ver­sion, did not see pop­u­lar pub­li­ca­tion until 1982, and I have finally read this author­i­ta­tive text. 15-08-08 READING Wyeth illo 1

It reveals a work even more pecu­liar than the 1916 ver­sion. The story is set in the year 1490, in a fic­tional Aus­trian vil­lage. The nar­ra­tor is a sixteen-year-old vil­lage boy named August Feld­ner, an appren­tice in a print-shop. Twain, who was him­self a printer’s appren­tice in Han­ni­bal, Mis­souri when he was a boy, fills the nar­ra­tive with the arcana of the print­ing trade. The print shop’s mas­ter is a sym­pa­thetic char­ac­ter, but there are sev­eral vil­lains: the master’s shrewish and schem­ing wife, a fraud­u­lent magician-alchemist, and a per­se­cut­ing priest. The appren­tices, among whom August counts for lit­tle, are a mixed bag of char­ac­ters, but all are obsessed with the perquisites and peck­ing order of the trade. Twain takes every occa­sion to demon­strate the super­sti­tious and cred­u­lous men­tal­ity of the time, using his well-honed satir­i­cal style. But he also evokes the inno­cence of child­hood and the hum­ble plea­sures or vil­lage life. Twain began writ­ing this ver­sion while he was stay­ing in a small Swiss vil­lage, which he likened to Han­ni­bal in his diary. Into this fic­tional com­mu­nity there sud­denly arrives a mys­te­ri­ous stranger, a boy appar­ently of August’s age, bedrag­gled, seek­ing food and shel­ter, for which he offers to work. When asked his name, he gives it as “Num­ber 44, New Series 864,962.” Twain dwells on the boy’s bewitch­ing beauty. Befriend­ing August, and tak­ing him into his con­fi­dence, he reveals him­self as an “angel”, in fact a rel­a­tive of Satan him­self (Satan, of course, being the rebel angel), and exist­ing out­side of space and time. He com­mu­ni­cates tele­phath­i­cally with August, teaches him how to make him­self invis­i­ble, brings him arti­cles from the future, and whisks him to moun­tain tops and China in an instant. They travel to the past. He also shows August humanity’s hor­rors, includ­ing the burn­ing alive of a “witch”, the tragic lives of the poor, and the grim results of alter­nate time-lines of his­tory. He seems utterly obliv­i­ous to August’s notions of pro­pri­ety, piety, and ethics. When No.44’s dili­gence earns him a posi­tion as appren­tice, the other appren­tices go on strike in resent­ment, sab­o­tag­ing an urgent print­ing job. No.44 con­jures up an army of dopple­gangers who do the work, and there is a comic bat­tle in which each char­ac­ter fights his own dupli­cate. Finally, No.44 is burnt as a witch, only to reap­pear to August and explain to him that:

Noth­ing exists; all is a dream. God — man — the world, — the sun, the moon, the wilder­ness of stars: a dream, all a dream, they have no exis­tence. Noth­ing exists save empty space — and you!”… “And you are not you — you have no body, no blood, no bones, you are but a thought. I myself have no exis­tence, I am but a dream — your dream, crea­ture of your imag­i­na­tion. In a moment you will have real­ized this, then you will ban­ish me from your visions and I shall dis­solve into the noth­ing­ness out of which you made me….

15-08-08 READING Wyeth illo 3
He explains that human ideas are self-evidently absurd, such as a belief in “a God who could make good chil­dren as eas­ily as bad, yet pre­ferred to make bad ones; who could have made every one of them happy, yet never made a sin­gle happy one; who made them prize their bit­ter life, yet stingily cut it short; who gave his angels pain­less lives, yet cursed his other chil­dren with bit­ing mis­eries and mal­adies of mind and body; who mouths jus­tice, and invented hell; who mouths morals to other peo­ple, and has none him­self; who frowns upon crimes, yet com­mits them all; who cre­ates man with­out invi­ta­tion, then tries to shuf­fle the respon­si­bil­ity for man’s acts upon man, instead of hon­or­ably plac­ing it where it belongs, upon him­self; and finally, with alto­gether divine obtuse­ness, invites this poor abused slave to wor­ship him!…

15-08-08 READING Wyeth illo 2It’s no won­der that Twain con­sid­ered the book unpub­lish­able. And it’s not sur­pris­ing that it was writ­ten in the shadow of tragedy. Of the three daugh­ters that Twain doted on, one died of menin­gi­tis in 1896, at the age of twenty-four, another drowned in a bath­tub in 1909. Ear­lier, his only son had died of dipthe­ria when but a tod­dler. Olivia, his wife of thirty-four years, to whom he was utterly devoted, died after a pro­tracted ill­ness while they were in Italy. Twain had plenty of rea­son to be bit­ter. This strange novel embod­ies, in one way or another, all of his life-long obses­sions, from his fas­ci­na­tion with child­hood, and with the Mid­dle Ages, to his par­ing of dual char­ac­ters, one “nor­mal” and the other a kind of pagan spirit — Tom and Huck mutated into August and #44. His hatred of injus­tice and reli­gious hypocrisy are in there in spades. But most of all, the novel dwells on the puz­zle of suf­fer­ing and the multi-faceted nature of con­scious­ness. All Twain’s doubts and tor­ments are resolved in a bizarre kind of meta­phys­i­cal solip­sism. I don’t think, how­ever, that this should be taken as a dec­la­ra­tion of Twain’s actual belief. Twain was a Menip­pean writer, given to play­ing out con­tra­dic­tory schemata of the world in the form of satires, melo­dra­mas and bur­lesques. But there is no doubt about his using this instru­ment to deal with per­sonal anguish.

In the same year that the recov­ered text reached gen­eral pub­li­ca­tion, a small film pro­duc­tion com­pany made a rea­son­ably faith­ful cin­e­matic ver­sion of the story. This is one of the odd­est “fam­ily films” (for it was mar­keted as such) ever made. No.44’s final speech, blas­phe­mous by any Chris­t­ian stan­dards, is in the film, which would nowa­days make it non grata in the U.S., even though it prob­a­bly voices the dis­en­chant­ment of many mod­ern Amer­i­cans. It was filmed in Aus­tria. Pro­duc­tion val­ues were low-end, but ade­quate. August was played by Chris Make­peace, a Cana­dian child actor who had briefly been suc­cess­ful in the com­edy Meat­balls. No.44 was played by Lance Ker­win, a hard-working juve­nile tele­vi­sion actor. The cast­ing was per­fect. Makepeace’s naïve per­sona and Kerwin’s mis­chie­vous one fit the story well. Iron­i­cally, Ker­win later became a drug addict, then found reli­gion.

26166. [2] (Mark Twain) The Mys­te­ri­ous Stranger [ill. N.C. Wyeth] [1916 Harper Edi­tion]
[not same as Esel­dorf ver­sion [Diary of Young Satan] at 22281 or No.44 ver­sion]
26167. (Mark Twain) No.44, the Mys­te­ri­ous Stranger [Mark Twain Project text]
26173. (Joseph Csic­sila) John S. Tuckey’s Mark Twain and Lit­tle Satan [arti­cle]
26174. (John Sut­ton Tuckey) Mark Twain and Lit­tle Satan: The Writ­ing of The Mys­te­ri­ous Stranger


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*(Trevor­row 2015) Juras­sic World
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First-time listening for July 2015

27004. Did­jeri­doo: Musique aborigène d’Australie
27005. (Off­spring) The Off­spring
27006. (Kas­sia) Dox­a­zomen sou Christe
27007. (Kas­sia) Ek rizis agathis
27008. (Kas­sia) O syna­po­s­ta­tis tyran­nos
27009. (Kas­sia) O Phar­iseos
27010. (Kas­sia) O Vasilevs tis doxis Chris­tos
27011. (Kas­sia) I Edessa
27012. (Kas­sia) Tin pen­ta­chor­don lyran
27013. (Kas­sia) Igapisas theophore
27014. (Kas­sia) Yper ton Elli­non
27015. (Kas­sia) I en polles amar­ties
27016. (Kas­sia) Pela­gia
27017. (Kas­sia) Tou stavrou sou I dynamis
27018. (Kas­sia) Olvon lipousa patrikon
27019. (Kas­sia) Petron ke Pavlon
27020. (Kas­sia) Isaïou nyn tou prophi­tou
27021. (Kas­sia) I ton lip­sanon sou thiki
27022. (Kas­sia) Avgous­tou monar­chisan­tos
27023. (Kas­sia) Christina mar­tys
27024. (Fela Kuti) Koola Lobitos: The ’69 L.A. Ses­sions
27025. (Suede) Dog Man Star
27026. (Vic­tor Uwaifo) Guitar-Boy Super­star 1970–76